Al Jazeera television network logo
Al Jazeera television network logo AFP photo

An Egyptian court on Monday sentenced three Al-Jazeera journalists, including Australia's Peter Greste, to jail terms from seven to 10 years, AFP reports.

Greste and Egyptian-Canadian Mohammed Fadel Fahmy each got seven years, while Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed received two sentences, one for seven years and another for three.

Eleven defendants tried in absentia, including one Dutch journalist and two British journalists, were given 10-year sentences, the report said.

The three journalists are accused of aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood of ousted president Mohammed Morsi and are also charged with spreading false news. Last week, Egypt's prosecutor general ordered the release of another detained journalist, Abdullah Elshamy, who had been on hunger strike for nearly five months.

The verdict provoked an international outcry and raised fears of growing media restrictions in Egypt.

“Today's conviction is obviously a chilling and draconian sentence,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told journalists in Baghdad, a day after he visited Cairo where he urged Egyptian leaders to uphold press freedom.

The Australian government said it was “shocked” by the verdict.

“We are deeply dismayed that a sentence has been imposed and appalled at the severity of it,” Canberra's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said, according to AFP.

“It is hard to credit that the court in this case could have reached this conclusion,” she added.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said she was “shocked and alarmed” by the verdicts and urged a review of Egyptian laws.

“Media employees trying to carry out their work in Egypt are now confronted by an extremely difficult and dangerous environment. They should be protected not prosecuted,” she said.

In The Hague, Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said he had summoned Egypt's ambassador and would raise the matter with his EU colleagues after Dutch journalist Rena Netjes, tried in absentia, “did not get a fair trial”.

London also said it was summoning Cairo's envoy, and David Cameron's spokesman said the premier was “completely appalled” by the verdicts issued in absentia against two British journalists working for Al-Jazeera.

Al-Jazeera, which is owned by the government of Qatar, has been called"the Muslim Brotherhood channel" and has been blamed for stirring up much of the violence that has rocked the Middle East in recent years and is often referred to as the “Arab Spring.” 

The governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates recently withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar, in protest over Qatar's support for the Muslim Brotherhood, especially in Egypt.